Late For Work 1/20: Ranking Ravens' Biggest Offseason Needs

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Ranking Ravens' Biggest Offseason Needs

Even though the Ravens' core foundation will stay intact for 2017, plenty of roster changes are expected this offseason as the team has a long list of needs.

These changes could make the difference between advancing to the playoffs or being knocked out of contention, like they were when they were a few inches shy of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas Day.

Which changes are the most important in reaching that goal?

The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec prioritized what he believes to be the biggest needs of the Ravens' offseason, which I mostly agree with. I added my two cents below:

1) Cornerback
One could argue that pass rusher should be at the top of this list, but I agree with Zrebiec here. Defensive success in 2016 was far too dependent upon a single player: cornerback Jimmy Smith. Not only did the pass defense suffer in his absence, but Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees had to deploy safety help for the backup corners, instead of helping in run defense, which took a hit down the stretch. Combining Smith's injury history with Jerraud Powers being a free agent and predictions of Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington becoming cap casualties, the Ravens could have a lot of work to do to shore up their cornerbacks corps.

2) Pass RusherWhile the pass defense faltered when Smith was down, the outside pass rush was lacking nearly the entire season. The Ravens finished 24th in the league with 31 sacks, and 11 of those came from interior defensive linemen or the blitzing secondary. The Ravens could use another elite pass rusher – mostly likely to be found in the draft – but there aren't as many pieces that need to be added as at cornerback. The core group will remain with Terrell Suggs leading the way for Matthew Judon and Za'Darius Smith. Despite getting older, Suggs is still one of the best in the league, but the Ravens need more from their youngsters. If Elvis Dumervil is a salary-cap casualty like many pundits are predicting, his production will need to be replaced.

3) Wide Receiver
Not only will the Ravens need to replace receivers on their way out, but they'll need to find a No. 1 receiver, whether that is by bringing in new blood or somebody on the roster stepping up. Steve Smith Sr. has retired and Kamar Aiken is heading into unrestricted free agency after feeling like he was underutilized. If the Ravens keep Mike Wallace ($8 million 2017 cap hit), he or third-year receiver Breshad Perriman could take over the top receiver role, or the Ravens could shop for another veteran like they've done in the past with Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Smith.

4) CenterThe Ravens made it abundantly clear they want to beef up the offensive line, but with three-fifths of the line set, there are only two places that could happen: center and right tackle. Wrote Zrebiec, "[Jeremy]* *Zuttah battled through myriad injuries this season and played extremely hard, but he had a tough time dealing with big nose tackles and the Ravens were susceptible to inside penetration. If they don't view Urschel as the long-term answer, the Ravens need to find a big, young and athletic center."

5) Safety

With Eric Weddle healthy and ready to return next season, the safety position is in a good spot, however, things could change depending on the fate of Lardarius Webb, who has a scheduled $7.5 million cap hit next season. If he becomes a cap casualty like some media have speculated, there might not be much depth behind him with Matt Elam heading into free agency and Kendrick Lewis another rumored potential cut.

What Is Today's Mysterious Press Conference?

Minds are racing after the Ravens announced last night that there will be an 11 a.m. press conference today, but didn't provide any details other than General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh will be in attendance.

Orr is set to become a restricted free agent in March, but the Ravens likely could hold onto him with a second-round tender, which was worth $2.553 million in 2016. That's certainly affordable.

The Ravens and Terrell Suggs have already said he's returning. Seems odd that Newsome would retire just before free agency and as the draft process ramps up.

Looks like we're going to have to be patient for just a little while longer ….

UPDATE: It looks like Orr, 24, will announce his retirement this morning.

#Ravens star LB Zach Orr is retiring because of a serious injury, sources say. Heart-breaking. Team couldn't talk him out of it. — Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 20, 2017

Ravens' Free Agents Repeatedly Targeted By Other Teams

Watch out for the bullseye that so frequently targets Ravens free agents.

ESPN's Jamison Hensley reviewed the number of past Ravens free agents that have been plucked away with the lure of big paydays, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the trend continues with players like defensive tackle Brandon Williams and right tackle Rick Wagner in March.

In the last four offseasons, at least one Ravens free agent was paid more than $12 million in guaranteed money to leave Baltimore, per Hensley.

"[W]hile the Ravens haven't drafted as many Pro Bowl players lately as they once did, they've been consistently producing starters who have been targeted by others," he wrote.

"Baltimore is projected to have nearly $20 million in salary-cap room, and that number could double by cutting a handful of players with high cap numbers. The additional cap room would be helpful for a Ravens team that has five starters among its 11 unrestricted free agents this offseason."

Here are some of the Ravens' drafted players that left in free agency over the last several years:

OLB Paul Kruger (2013, Browns): 5 years, $40.5 million
LB Dannell Ellerbe (2013, Dolphins): 5 years, $35 million
OLB Arthur Jones (2014, Colts): 5 years, $33 million         
WR Torrey Smith (2015, 49ers): 5 years, $40 million
OLB Pernell McPhee (2015, Bears): 5 years, $38.8 million
OL Kelechi Osemele (2016, Raiders): 5 years, $58.5 million

"I think no team in the NFL has had more money spent on their players over the last seven years than us," Ravens Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said last year. "To me, that's an indicator that other teams value our players."

Ravens Could Be Done Making Coaching Changes

Joe D'Alessandris will replace Juan Castillo as the Ravens offensive line coach, bringing 40 years of coaching experience to Baltimore.

You can get a full run-down of D'Alessandris' accomplishments here, but he got a nice endorsement from ESPN's Field Yates, who spent two years with the Kansas City Chiefs on the scouting and coaching staffs while D'Alessandris was there.

Hensley says D'Alessandris could mark the final addition to the Ravens' coaching staff (barring another departure). The Ravens still need to hire a secondary coach, but they could do that with an internal promotion. They may not add a quarterbacks coach, as Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will be the main person working with Joe Flacco.

There was speculation that Rick Dennison could return to Baltimore either as the quarterbacks or offensive line coach, but the Buffalo Bills announced yesterday that Dennison will become their offensive coordinator.

Dennison will reunite with Tyrod Taylor after working with Taylor and Flacco as Baltimore's quarterbacks coach in 2014.

Will A Top-Tier Corner Fall To Baltimore At No. 16?

When draft guru Mel Kiper projected dynamic Michigan safety/linebacker Jabrill Peppers to the Ravens yesterday, he said it was because Peppers will have a higher grade than any cornerbacks at that point. That is, unless somebody like Florida's Teez Tabor or Quincy Wilson slips that far.

That may not be out of the question.

NFL Network analyst and former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah also released his first mock draft yesterday, and he has Baltimore selecting Wilson (6-foot-1, 213 pounds) with their 16th-overall pick.

"Wilson is a very talented press cornerback with excellent ball skills," wrote Jeremiah. "He would upgrade the Ravens secondary, teaming with Jimmy Smith to give Baltimore two of the biggest corners in the league."

Of course, Kiper correctly projected left tackle Ronnie Stanley to the Ravens at No. 6 in his first mock draft last year, while Jeremiah projected cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who never made it past the Jacksonville Jaguars at the fifth spot. Jeremiah wasn't far off, but Kiper was dead on.

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